Thursday, September 20, 2012

Short History of CPS-CTU salary talks that I wrote for my brother

I wrote this email to one of my brothers just now, and then thought it might be helpful for others who read my blog.

Dear Todd,

I've been meaning to write back to you since I got your email about Karen and how we were still out. Karen doesn't always look great in the news, but I've grown to really respect and admire her as a leader.

We only decided to stay out on Sunday because the lawyers had not finished writing the tentative agreement. In the past, other teachers' unions have had items clawed back when they went back to the classroom too early. Everyone wanted the strike to be over, and it would have been really hard to muster everyone to go back out again if something like that happened. If we had reconvened on Monday, it would have been during Rosh Hashanah, which many in the House of Delegates (including myself) thought would be in appropriate. So we met Tuesday. This gave them enough time to finish writing the agreement.

I honestly wasn't worried about losing public support when we voted Sunday, and the honks and thumbs up that we got on the picket line on Monday felt no different from last week--if anything, we had even more support from families who understood that we wanted something in writing before we could go back into the building. There was still a minority of delegates on Tuesday that wanted to stay out and hold out for more--by and large the people who wanted to hold out were doing so on the basis of salary and benefits. The problem is, these people are out of touch with economic reality and/or are conspiracy theorists who believe that CPS is hiding cash under its mattress.

I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance to read any of the reports estimating what the new contract is going to cost the district. But they'll come up with the money. They always do. It was their bad for creating and ratifying a budget before they had a contract with the teachers.

Nothing in the tentative contract is a secret. What might have seemed odd to someone on the outside though is the way that the union kept saying that it wasn't about the money, and yet that we were striking over wages and benefits and layoffs. This is because of a new Illinois state law that says we can only strike over wages and benefits and layoff practices. We had to keep saying that we were striking on those things, even though they were actually negotiating on other things in the contract, because otherwise the strike could be declared illegal. And yes, Rahm tried to do that. Big baby. Part of me really wanted to see him try to use a court order to make the teachers go back to work. The Chicago Police are completely on the teachers' side--they always give us thumbs ups at our rallies--because their contract is up next.

The salary sticking point was tricky. The backstory is that the Board canceled a promised 4% raise for the 2011-12 school year, the last year of our previous contract. At the end of the 2010-11 year, they said that they could only honor the raise if they laid off teachers. CTU staged a couple of protests over this and even threatened to reopen the contract early, but we never got the money. Then when the 2011-12 school year started, Rahm Emanuel announced that he was going to use his prerogative under a new state law to extend the Chicago school day. (This was a big campaign promise of his--he used a completely made up statistic about how kids in Houston attend school for a total of 4 years longer than Chicago students over the course of their lives. By the way, Chicago does not have the shortest day in the nation. And most research says the length of time in the classroom does not correlate to student achievement or graduation rates. But who's paying attention to doing what makes sense?) The union cried foul and actually got a court order from the ILRB for him to stop. But then he went into individual schools (many run by AUSL, the organization that runs my school) and offered teachers $1000 bonuses to agree to a longer day. Many of these teachers felt coerced into voting yes. The ILRB said that the district had to stop having teachers vote waivers on the longer day, but that the schools that already had voted would keep their longer day.

The longer day became the signature reform in the new contract talks, at least on Rahm and the city's side. They created a huge propaganda machine referring it to as the "Full School Day," as if teachers had previously been doing half days! We were forced to pass out letters to our students from the district explaining how important it was to make this change. Meanwhile, CPS wanted to add 90 minutes to the elementary school day (45 to the high school day) and 10 teaching days to the school year, and they initially offered no pay raise. They said they couldn't afford it. Then they started offering 2% in the first year of a 4-year contract, followed by a salary freeze in years 2 and 3, and the implementation of a total overhaul of our compensation scheme in year 4 of our contract.

The big line in the news throughout negotiations was that CTU had "demanded a 30% pay increase." The actual number was somewhere between 26% and 29%. Of course, no one expected to get a raise like this, but personally I thought it was a bad PR move on our part all along. The point they were trying to make is that the city was asking us to work 19% more than our existing time while also claiming that these are unprecedented times of austerity. We needed to make sacrifices for the children, they said, which is more of this "education crisis" nonsense where politicians try to make it look like they're going to fix everything right away because there's no time to lose.

When everything went into arbitration over the summer, the arbitrator stunned everyone by coming out on the side of the CTU, at least on wages. My favorite part of his report was where he likened CPS to someone who has bought a car and can no longer make the payments, but wants to keep the car anyway. The longer day was their idea, and if they couldn't pay for it, then they didn't need to have it. Except that it was one of Rahm's top five campaign promises. The arbitrator, who has a reputation for being fairly financially conservative, recommended a 13% raise. He came to this number by deciding that CTU had fared better than the rest of the economy during the last contract, so we were slightly overpaid, and basically figuring the difference for a 19% increase in time. He stressed that teachers are just like all other workers--you can't ask them to work more time for free. (The CTU had meanwhile commissioned a report from the School of Labor Relations at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that found that teachers work an average of 58 hours a week during the school year. I was only sad that this report was issued by the labor relations department at the school, which I thought made it less credible than it would have been had it been done with the school of education.)

Of course, as soon as the arbitrator went against what CPS wanted, they said he was a crazy idiot, and we were back at the table. So, in the end, we got a 3-year contract with COLA increases of 3%, 2%, and 2%. We also got to keep our salary "steps," which are increases we receive for years of teaching experience. We have an option to extend our contract for a 4th year for another 3%, but it has to be agreed upon by both the union and the district. This is the most I have ever felt like a baseball player.

I have more to say about steps, so-called "merit pay," and benefits, but I'll leave it at that for now!